FA Cup - Premier League also-rans fight over semi scraps

Unable to challenge Manchester United's hegemony in the Premier League, holders Chelsea and Manchester City meet in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday that offers the victor a measure of redemption for seasons unfulfilled.

Reuters
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Manchester City's Yaya Toure celebrates his goal against Chelsea during their English Premier League soccer match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northern England, February 24, 2013 (Reuters)

City, despite a morale-boosting derby victory at Manchester United, have long since conceded that the title is heading away from the Etihad and back a few miles west across the city to Old Trafford.

In the capital, Chelsea have gone from proud European champions to a club bedevilled by fan disharmony, seemingly riding out manager Rafael Benitez's tumultuous interim spell before hoping for calmer seas, possibly under Jose Mourinho, in the future.

The winner of Sunday's showdown, a day after Wigan Athletic take on Championship Millwall in a far from glamorous but no less intriguing first semi-final, will be hot favourites to lift the trophy.

"I think we should be sad that we won't win the title," City manager Roberto Mancini told the FA's website.

"But if there is a team better than you then you have to accept that. After, it is important for us to win the FA Cup."

Benitez, with the howls of protest by fans that greeted his arrival in November now petering out into apathy, has got on with the job and is determined to end his Stamford Bridge tenure with some silverware having seen off United in the last eight.

"It cannot be more difficult, eh?" the Spaniard, whose first game in charge was a 0-0 draw with City on November 25 and notable only for the jeers he received from hostile Chelsea fans, said of Sunday's clash.

"But if you want to win you have to play against the best. United is one, City will be another one. I think it's a great season at the moment - and it could be even better."

Chelsea, FA Cup winners in four of the last six seasons, will have only two full days to recover from a long flight back from Moscow after they face Rubin Kazan in the Europa League on Thursday.

Chelsea and City have already met in one showpiece this season, Mancini's men beating the Londoners 3-2 in the FA Community Shield in August in a match played at Villa Park in Birmingham with Wembley busy for the Olympic football tournament.

Wigan, embroiled in their perennial fight against relegation from the top flight, are in the last four for the first time in their 81-year history.

The match marks an emotional return to Wembley for Dave Whelan, the Wigan chairman who was 23 when he broke his leg at Wembley playing for Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 FA Cup final against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves won 3-0 and the injury ended Whelan's top-flight playing career.

"He's put so much into the club and the town as well. He comes into the changing room always positive," said Wigan defender Emmerson Boyce.

"He always tells us to enjoy football because of what happened to his career. It's going to be a proud, proud moment for him to lead us out at Wembley."

Millwall, 16th in the Championship, start as underdogs to reach a second FA Cup final after they lost the 2004 showpiece 3-0 to Manchester United at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

The club from south east London are sure of vociferous support at Wembley having sold over 31,000 tickets. Wigan have failed to sell their allocation.

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